Pepper-roasting season is time to make romesco

Returning home this week from a trip to Southern California, I was feeling chilled to the bone, although evening temperatures hadn’t dipped into freezing.

The threat of frost had spurred my mother-in-law, our garden guru, from pulling any numbers of peppers from the plants and depositing them in our fridge. I knew she would. I even sanctioned the refrigerator stash.

Now I have to get busy roasting the peppers and bundling them into freezer bags for use throughout the winter. If I’m feeling energetic, I’ll skin some of the spot and either layer them into a casserole for chilies rellenos or blend them into romesco sauce — basically to peppers and almonds what pesto is to basil and pine nuts. Like pesto, romesco freezes exceptionally well and can brighten up winter dishes long after the warm weather’s departure.

This version of romesco, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, suggests yet another pepper, the mild and much-touted shishito, for dipping. But romesco is delicious with any raw or cooked vegetable, crackers or bread, tossed with pasta or as an accompaniment to meat and seafood.

Tribune News Service photo

Shishito Peppers and Romesco Sauce

8 ounces fresh shishito peppers

1/3 cup roasted, salted marcona or regular almonds

2 large roasted red peppers, stems and seeds discarded

4 sun-dried tomato halves, packed in oil, drained

2 garlic cloves, degermed (halve and pull out any green shoot)

1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt, to taste

Flaky salt, for garnish

If you would like to seed the shishito peppers while retaining their handy stems, use kitchen scissors to snip a T into each pepper. The T’s top sits ¼ inch from stem and runs halfway around circumference of pepper. Stem of T runs about an inch long. Fold flaps open and pull out seeds. Rinse. Dry thoroughly.

Drop the almonds into bowl of a food processor. Pulse until largest chunks are about split pea-sized. Scrape from bowl and set aside.

Drop the red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and 1 tablespoon of chopped almonds into bowl of food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Process again, slowly pouring in the 1/4 cup oil. Scrape into a small bowl. Stir in the vinegar, paprika, cayenne and reserved almonds. Season this sauce generously with the kosher salt.

Set a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in 1 teaspoon oil. When hot, drop in half of shishito peppers. Cook, tossing, until fragrant, blistered and browned, for 4 to 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining oil and peppers.

Smooth romesco sauce onto a platter. Scatter peppers over sauce. Sprinkle with flaky salt. Dig in.

Makes 4 servings.

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